Friday, April 16, 2010

Growing Patterns

The third roommate began to move his things shortly thereafter, but very gradually. First to disappear were his books, then the bucket and mug vanished. There were two cupboards in the room, one of which he had taken custody of and kept it always locked, with the key tucked to his key chain, which he carried all the time, even while going to the bathroom. I soon found it unlocked and empty. One evening, after returning from the department, we found that his bed too had evaporated. Neither Vijay, nor I cared to ask him where he was moving all his things. Finally, the only thing that he retained was his key to the room, which he never used thereafter. I had been sharing a cupboard with Vijay. Now I was free to occupy the one emptied by Jogesh. Now there was sufficient space in the room, and no unfeeling, inane irritations to deal with in the mornings. The mornings were serene and silent. It was now that I began to feel at home.

At the time of my admission, I had opened an account in one of the banks on the campus, and had deposited six thousand rupees, enough to cover my expenses for the whole year. But for all others, the first week of the month was a period of waiting for the Money Order to arrive. They would visit the Post Office every day to enquire whether the MO has arrived. Mohan, Bhaskar, Virupakshappa, and Suresh waited for their monthly allowance while Vijay went back to his place once a month to collect his. Hence, the first week was celebration time for Mohan and Bhaskar. After paying all the dues to the mess and the canteen, they would rush to the city every evening for partying. For some reason unknown to me even to this date, neither I not Vijay were invited to accompany them. I concluded variously, that they continued to think I was an outsider because I did not share their undergraduate experiences; that my introvert, reserved, taciturn personality traits were unsavoury to them; that there was a sea of differences in our backgrounds, habits, culture, and outlook; that they didn’t like me at all, etc. At times I felt desolated, and craved for their company, their gossips, their grins, their jokes, the fun, and their laughter. At the same time, I kept cursing myself too for not being able to at least enfeeble the hard shell around me, so that someone can pierce it.

Another of my classmates, Madhav Nayak, was the only person who knew that I had deposited so much of money in the bank, as he, on the suggestion of the clerk of the department, had accompanied me to the bank to assist me in opening the account. As an account holder, he could introduce me to the bank, by signing in the application form. Early one evening, he came to my room, and called me out to discuss me something in person. When I met him in the portico, he quietly said that he has not received his monthly allowance due to some reasons back home, and that he needed five hundred rupees urgently. He said he would return the money as soon as possible. It felt very strange to me. He had studied in Dharwad itself right from his high school days, and undoubtedly had lots of pals. Why should he come to me, of all the people, to ask for a loan, when I barely knew him? It was very difficult for me to say no; for I couldn’t tell him I didn’t have. Even more difficult for me was to invent a lie. It took me sometime, but finally I told him that I would not be able to give him money. He felt offended, and it showed on his face. He left without a word, but later he never talked to me. I found out later that he was habituated to borrowing money and not returning it. Fortunately, he did not stay in the hostel and after a couple of months, he gave up pursuing the course itself.

Days began to assume a pattern. I got used to the overcast sky, constant rains, at times, torrential downpour and slight drizzle, at others. The landscape around the hostel, in fact the whole campus became green. Reddish muddy water flowed incessantly in the drains and trenches in the campus. The grass grew taller and taller in the botanical gardens. The rainwater dripped from the leaves of the trees and flew onto my face, while passing by the side. Cold winds blew, never violently, but there used to be strong winds, brushing my hair, and fluttering my clothes. I liked the wind very much, for it made me nostalgic. It was soothing, comforting, and freshening. I liked to wear sweaters of different colours, not because of the cold, but I thought I looked better wearing them. I had a special liking for the military green pullover with white stripes that was loosely knit and allowed the passage of air through it.

Evenings were even more enchanting. It would be dark sometimes as early as five thirty. With Vijay constantly at my side, I used to enjoy my ride in the city bus sitting by the window, my ritual drinks, and returning to the hostel late in the evening. Vijay and I did miss the company of Mohan and Bhaskar for most of the month. But for a few early days of the month, we did go with them. Those were even happier evenings, and gradually we had become close friends. Now everyone in the group was addressing me in singular. But I made it a point never to ask Mohan why he would not ask me to be in their company at all times, all the days. Vijay and I reassured ourselves that we didn’t need to be always depending on the rest of the group, for we were a group unto ourselves.

I came to know that the huge auditorium and a couple of rooms annexed to it constituted ‘Gandhi Bhavan’, that it was the department of Gandhian Studies, offering post graduate diploma courses in Gandhian Studies. In the final year of my graduate class, we had a lesson in Basic English called “And Then Gandhi Came”, an excerpt from the Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru. The professor who taught us Basic English was a vociferous critic of Mahatma Gandhi. Ideologically he was in the right wing. When he started criticizing Mahatma Gandhi and also Nehru as his protégé, for all the ills facing our country, I couldn’t contain myself. I basically believed that the teacher should be ideologically neutral, at least in the treatment of the subject matter in the classroom. He should refrain from imposing or canvassing his own ideological leanings. Although I was not well read in Gandhian philosophy or ideology, I had been a keen student of the Indian national movement. I defended Gandhi and Nehru so vigorously in the argument with the professor that ensued and continued for nearly four days, that the professor had to concede his defeat in the open classroom. However, the victory had not been sufficient for me. I wanted to study Mahatma Gandhi, his life, his work and philosophy to be able to answer many questions that the professor had raised, to which the answers that I had given had not satisfied me. I enrolled for the course and started attending the classed in the evening.

I had always been found of music and always wanted to unravel the mysteries of the Indian classical music. I found out that the department of music and fine arts was also offering a certificate course in the Hindustani Classical Vocal music. After a simple test of recital of notes along with the harmonium, I was admitted and started attending the classes in the morning. Thus a day’s pattern was music classes in the morning, Masters’ classes during the day, diploma classed in the evening and finally visiting hotel Prince, later in the evening. On Sundays, when most of the boys were washing or pressing their clothes, or visiting their relatives, our gang relaxed till eleven in the morning, and then we usually went to have gin and limewater near Modern movie theatre. We used to watch English movies after a couple of drinks, and then have lunch with some more gin before returning to the hostel for siesta. Evenings again were spent at Prince.

That the pattern would not remain the same for long was lingering in my mind like a premonition to me. It started with the music class. I had a session of one hour each day, on all weekdays. But it was a common class for three students, two girls in addition to me. For the first couple of days, I was to sit on my knees holding upright the tanpura tuned to D, recite the notes in succession while strumming the four strings of the tanpura one after another, with a brief pause after the fourth string. It was so painful sitting on my knees, that I could not concentrate on the clarity of notes. I could not understand why they were making an experience supposed to be full of pleasure and bliss, an unmitigated painful one! Just when I was getting used to bearing the pain, we were introduced to two ragas, Bhoopali for the first three days of the week and Durga for the remaining days. It was indeed very easy for me to understand the structure of the ragas, and I could recite them with ease and without going off-key. But for the other two girls, it was an impossible task. The third note of Bhoopali is ga and that of Durga is ma. The teachers would struggle make them catch the right note because after three days of Bhoopali, they could not go up to ma. By the third day somehow the teacher teaching Durga would be successful in making them sing the correct note, which is ma but the teacher teaching Bhoopali on the fourth day would raise his hands in exasperation after trying to make them sing the correct third note which is ga!

It took me only hardly a few minutes to sing the correct raga, but the remaining time I had to spend watching the girls struggle, and the teacher despair. I wanted to have some more attention of the teachers but it was not to be. After somehow learning three ragas, I just gave up attending the classes. Much later, I heard that the girls also had dropped out!

However, I persisted with the course in Gandhian Studies, for it was pleasure attending the classes there in the evening. Majority of the teachers were retired teachers, librarians, activists who were working as guest-lecturers. I read and reread The Story of My Experiments With Truth and Hind Swaraj, spent a lot of time attending discussions, seminars on Gandhian philosophy. But my approach to the Gandhian Studies was more with head than with heart. For at least a couple of years during my graduation, I had been highly influenced by Karl Marx, and considered myself a Marxist until I overheard a highly reputed intellectual comrade calling a peon of our college “a silly, worthless peon”, after a minor scuffle with the latter. I felt he was identifying himself with the class of haves and addressing the peon, a have not with perceptible scorn when he was required to identify himself with the proletariat and start a class struggle. For quite sometimes I had also been attracted by the utilitarian philosophy of J.S.Mill, and pluralist philosophy of H.J.Laski. Since childhood I had been an atheist, and later an apostate. I rebelled against all regulations; even the self imposed one, just like Jean Jacques Rousseau! In the end, I had turned into a much-confused youth, absorbing influences from various quarters. The best thing about me, according to my own assessment, was that I was like a sponge, absorbing ideas like a sponge absorbs water. I was open to all new ideas, ideologies and philosophies, but never ever committing myself to one particular thought. If someone tried to convince me, I would oppose it tooth and nail, gathering all the strength of the facts and ideas contrary to the one that is being pushed. But never would I argue for the sake of argument, if there were fresh insights that are logically coherent present in the idea or ideology.

The classroom lectures seemed to me like unavoidable rituals. Most boys were pretending to be attentive, being afraid of the teachers, not understanding much of what was being said although it was all in easy comprehensible English, some boys stealthily ogling at the girls from time to time when the lecturer is writing something on the blackboard, giggling with co-benchers on some silly joke. One of the professors used to keep a book on the lecture-stand and read long winding verbose sentences without caring to know if anybody understood it. He had developed a special skill of reading from the corners of his eyes without letting the audience to know that he was in fact reading. I could easily make out what he was doing since I had purchased the same book and would read it before going to the class.

One day when Vijay and I entered the lecture-hall, I found that Mohan and Bhaskar were talking to the girls. So far the boys had never talked to the girls. When did they make acquaintance with the girls, I had no idea. I had seen all the girls but had taken no notice of even one of them. Except perhaps Nirupama Vannur, who was about five-two, curvy, wheatish complexion bordering on the darker side, oval face, arched eyebrows, and succulent lips. She had an air of unmistakable small town background, midway between rural and big city. It showed in her behaviour, in her clothes and sandals. Though she couldn’t be called extraordinarily beautiful, she was very attractive in her own way. The other girl who always stayed with her always wore saris of different hues. She was very fair, and a bit thickset. She had a round face and a short nose on which she wore a tiny gold nose stud. She still retained some of the pudginess of childhood and sometimes I thought she looked like a retarded person. When she was answering the roll call, I learnt that her name was Vani Moraba. She too hailed from the same place as Nirupama.

Yet another girl was obviously a city-bred modern looking girl, Saroja Hublikar. She was short, about five feet, and wore skirts and chudidars. Denim skirt and a sleeveless t-shirt was her favourite dress. She was neither fair, nor dark. Some times she could be found with a gold rimmed glasses perched on her nose. Kalavati Khot was the girl who had spoken in the Inaugural Function. She too was a small town girl, very skinny, and liked to flaunt what she thought were her virtues, obedience to the teachers, industry, and self-righteousness. The last girl was a localite, Kavya Kabadi. She had been a classmate of Virupakshappa at graduate level. She spoke little, was about five-three, fair and good-looking. But I felt that she always tried to conceal her good looks and keep a low profile.

Now Mohan and Bhaskar were talking to Nirupama, Vani and Saroja. I was sitting at the last bench along with Vijay, and could not hear what they were talking. But obviously, the girls were giggling at something Mohan said. Later, just after the professor left the classroom, Bhaskar and Mohan vanished with the girls. It left an awkward pain of envy in my heart. “Damn!” I said to myself and saw that Vijay was unaffected as usual.

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